Australians love their engineered stone kitchen benchtops, but the trend is causing a deadly wave of the occupational lung disease called silicosis among our stonecutters.

The problems is that engineered stone can contain up to 90 percent silica, which is much higher than the content in granite or marble.  Queensland's government says 22 stonecutters have filed claims with WorkCover last month, including six who were diagnosed with terminal silicosis.  Brisbane-based senior occupational physician Dr. Graeme Edwards predicts there will be a dramatic spike in cases, because almost one in three workers tested so far in Queensland showed signs of silicosis.

"I'm expecting another 300 cases in Queensland by December alone," Dr. Edwards told the ABC's 7:30 program.  "It's horrendous, it's alarming.  Fifty percent of those are going to have progressive massive fibrosis," he added.

The ABC says there have been 16 silicosis claims by Victoria stonemasons, and stonemasons were among those filing 23 claims in New South Wales.  And with more and more patients coming forward to seek help, doctors fear the true number of silicosis cases may be far higher than suspected - perhaps in the thousands.

"This is the largest occupational lung crisis we've seen since the peak of asbestos use in the 1960s and the 1970s," said Dr. Ryan Hoy, a Melbourne-based Respiratory Physician and spokesperson for the Thoracic Society of Australia.  "We really have forgotten the lessons from that terrible time in our history with asbestos use."